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Album review: Sugarland's 'Incredible Machine'

Sugarland_inicredible_240_You don’t need the news release that accompanies the Georgia duo’s fourth album to know that Sugarland might easily have subtitled it, “The Arena Rock Album.”

Even without reading their own words about aspiring to come up with songs that can ignite 10,000 cellphone screens each night on their next tour, it’s obvious from one listen to the many U2, Shania Twain, Coldplay and Bon Jovi parallels that that’s where Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush are headed here.

Sugarland has expanded on its core country music audience by crafting increasingly pop-minded tracks, and it struck an attractive balance on 2008’s “Love on the Inside” between the down-home emotional tone of its early songs and a broader spectrum of pop, R&B and country-soul soaked material.

Now, however, subtlety, nuance and, most disappointingly, substance are checked at the stadium gate as the pendulum swings unmistakably toward sing- and sway-along anthems. The single “Stuck Like Glue” bursts with melodic, instrumental and lyrical hooks in a track as frothy as pop gets. Several other tracks show equally skilled production, but the appeal is all on the surface.

Nettles’ powerhouse voice needs no artificial help — evidenced anew on the gospel-minded ballad “Shine the Light” that closes the album — yet she goes the Auto-Tune route on occasion and elsewhere echoes the Beyoncé-Gaga-Katy Perry penchant du jour for monosyllabic glottal stops.

It’s a shame Sugarland couldn’t find room for anything as moving or richly layered as “Stay,” the pair’s 2007 hit that rightly landed them so many industry awards. The new stuff will most assuredly get audiences on their feet; whether it leaves them with anything beyond visceral thrill as they exit the arena is another matter.

— Randy Lewis

“Incredible Machine”
Two ½ stars (Out of four)

Comments () | Archives (7)

You are sooooo off when you touch upon nothing more than visceral thrill couldn't be more wrong. This album is an empowering album. Obviously you haven't loved and lost. Why don't you re-look at the songs, Stand up, Little Miss, Tonight, incredible machine for starters. The lyrics go soul deep just like Stay did. I think you need to some experience in what they are singing about before you can pass judgement on this album has 2.5 stars out of 4. Sorry but this album is at least 3.5 and I'm not the only one who thinks this!!

I'm right behind Louis on this. No substance? The reviewer obviously didn't comprehend the meaning(s) behind the lyrics of "Stand Up" or "Incredible Machine", or the subtlety of love and longing songs like "Little Miss" or "Every Girl Like Me". If anything, this album has twice as much substance as the run-of-the-mill "I'm more country than you are" albums being released today.

Randy - You are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine. I think Sugarland was on top of their game when they produced this work. Watch the DVD that came with the deluxe package. It is amazing the amount of hard work and talent that went into the development of this record. I am a fan of a broad range of music - and yes - a fan of Sugarland. I was surprised however, on the heavy emphasis on drums and bass (liked it) and lack of any solo or stand-out guitar work by Kristian (could have used it on many songs) - Kudos Sugarland! Your best effort by far!

The incredible machine is Sugarland branching out. I attended the premiere of the CD in Atlanta on Wednesday. Your comments about not having anything as moving or substantial. Have you listened to the last song on the CD? During the concert, Jennifer, and a piano were the only ones on stage. It was a riveting performance- almost brought me to tears!

I don't think anyone gives Sugarland enough credit. Their music gives me goosebumps. Their songs have pulled me through a break up when I didnt think I could love again. I will forever be a fan. This new album is different but it totally rocks! Makes me want more!

I agree with all below comments, this album is an instant favorite! I have truly enjoyed watching the band grow and look forward to much more from the fantastic duo, Sugarland!

I totally agree with this review. I bought this CD expecting to hear Sugarland, the wonderful voice and guitar playing country band I'm used to... That was not the case at all. This is a pop CD! It sounds forced and very mainstream. Very disappointed in this work.


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